By Wanda Wiedman // @WandaW63
The 2018 season was presumed to be a lock with the Green Bay Packers on top of the NFC North and the Chicago Bears in last place, according to most sports affiliates. But no one expected the opposite. Granted the Packers fell into third place in the division, finishing with a 6-9-1 record. However, no one expected the Bears to win the division with a 12-4 record led by a wicked defense and the Coach of the Year in Matt Nagy.
The Bears are fighting to keep that division title but their rivals are nipping at their heels, or so it seems on paper. Running backs, corners, safeties, defensive players and wide receivers are the focus of each team. Here is what the NFC North teams have done so far in free agency to fix some holes:
RB Mike Davis – A free agent from the Seattle Seahawks, Davis finished last season with 514 yards rushing, averaging 4.6 yards a carry and four rushing touchdowns. He also has the ability to catch in the backfield with 34 receptions for 214 receiving yards and one touchdown.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – Coming from a Super Bowl win last season, the Bears finally get the return man they have been searching for. Patterson is no stranger to the Bears as he played for four years with their NFC North rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. Patterson rushed for 228 yards for the New England Patriots, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and one touchdown. He has great receiving skills with 21 touches, 247 receiving yards and three touchdowns for the Patriots, one of those being a 55-yard TD.
CB Buster Skrine – In eight years in the league, he has a total of 389 solo tackles, 70 assists, 3.5 sacks, and nine interceptions. He is a small corner but has some veteran skills to bring to the table. One of his strong assets is his ability to sniff out screen blitzes. My concern with Skrine is that he isn’t very good in changing direction, especially against receivers. In Week 8 against the Jets, Bears WR Anthony Miller beat him in the end-zone due to Skrine’s inability to turn around quick enough. That might be a problem against WRs Davante Adams, Adam Theilen, and Marvin Jones.
WR Danny Amendola – Amendola was successful under QB Tom Brady in his Patriots days, so to be back playing with, now head coach Matt Patricia, he may gain back a little of that swagger he lost with the Miami Dolphins.
CB Justin Coleman – Another free agent out of Seattle. The former Seahawk had a combined total of 55 tackles, .50 a sack, 10 passes deflected, one interception and one forced fumble. He will be an asset to the Lions secondary.
DE Trey Flowers – Taken from his former team, Patricia couldn’t wait to get him through the door! Flowers is a beast up front with 57 combined tackles, 7.5 sacks, two passes deflected and three forced fumbles. He will be replacing DE Ziggy Ansah, who the Lions released, adding much-needed depth up front.
TE Jesse James – The tight end from the Pittsburgh Steelers will be just what quarterback Matthew Stafford needs down the field. He has great blocking skills as well as down the field pass catching abilities. James hauled in a 51-yard catch last season from QB Ben Roethlisberger which will be a plus with Stafford’s big arm.
Green Bay Packers:
S Adrian Amos – Some Bears fans were hoping he would stay in Chicago, but he opted to go where the money took him and that was to the division rival Packers. Amos played four seasons with the Bears totaling 274 combined tackles, two sacks, 19 passes deflected, three INTs (one of those was a pick-six for 90 yards and a TD) and three forced fumbles. He has a very similar style of play as former Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, so will be interesting to see how he fairs.
Edge Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith – Former Washington Redskins outside linebacker, Preston’s tenure there produced 107 combined tackles, 24.5 sacks, 13 passes deflected, four INTs and four forced fumbles. As for Smith, his career in the past four seasons has been with the Baltimore Ravens with a total of 118 combined tackles, 18.5 sacks, five passes deflected and three forced fumbles. The dual-threat up front could make life difficult for the division QBs.
OT Billy Turner – QB Aaron Rodgers has needed some help on the front lines. The addition of Turner from the Denver Broncos should help keep Rodgers upright enough for him to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
LB Anthony Barr – Initially, Barr had decided to join the Jets, but changed his mind after wrestling with the thought of playing for the Jets. He went back to Minnesota and signed a 5-yr contract worth 67.5 million. The Vikings get to keep one of their prime linebackers.
DT Shamar Stephen – Originally played with the Vikings from 2014-2017. Played last season with the Seattle Seahawks and has come back to finish what he started. His wasn’t as productive in Seattle but that may change with the wide receivers and tight ends loaded in this division.
Free agency is not done yet and with the NFL Draft just around the corner, it will be a fight for the crown once again. Here is hoping it stays competitive and not indicative of the prominence of one player.
Talk NFC North with Wanda on Twitter @WandaW63